All the savagery of seventeenth-century warfare was visited on Kerry and west Munster from some months after the rebellion of the northern Irish in October of 1641. Many of the leading participants in Munster had experience of the current Thirty Years War in Europe (1618-48), whose resonance in Kerry is clear from the fact that some of the newer gentry in Kerry would name their children after the great Protestant hero, Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden.
It was a war in which a majority of the old nobility felt compelled to take the side of the Irish. Religion was the great dividing line, and the old English of the Pale around Dublin flocked to the banner of the Catholic Irish when the northern insurrection reached the gates of their estates. How much more difficult was the dilemma of Donogh MacCarthy, second Viscount Muskerry. His castles of Blarney and Macroom were nearer the Gaelic peripherary than the Pale, yet he was a brother-in-law of the king’s Irish viceroy, James Butler, Duke of Ormond. At the Confederation of Kilkenny, which organised the insurrection, the Old English race predominated. To this race belonged the best known of the insurrection leaders in Kerry: Pierse Ferriter of Bally Ferriter. Viscount Muskerry, as a MacCarthy, was of the Gaelic race, had the blood of the Gael but he shared the social status and political outlook of the Old English, which was pro-King and pro-Catholic. What decided him to join the insurrection was the danger to his religion. Muskerry wrote to the Earl of Barrymore, a Cork magnate:
“… but that apprehending a general fear of prosecution, ruin and destruction to religion, king and country, they were fearful and sensible thereof that they held it more safe and honourable for them to expose their lives and fortunes to all hazards for justification of those three, than to be of the happiest condition without assurance of enjoying them.”
Lord Muskerry succeeded Lord Mountgarrett (Richard Butler) as principal Confederate commander in Munster. We find him later described as Governor of Kerry. The leadership of the MacCarthy nation also devolved to the Muskerry family at this time. This was helped by the failure of the line of MacCarthy Mór of Killarney. Viscount Muskerry would become Earl of Clancarty in 1658 in recognition of his support for the exiled monarch. Queen Elizabeth had first conferred that title (Clancar) on the MacCarthy of Killarney, Donal MacCarthy Mór.
Through most of 1642 the Irish insurrection spread throughout west Munster. Kerry fell to the Irish, who laid siege to Tralee Castle. Sir Edward Denny, wishing to relieve his castle of Tralee, joined an expedition to the south of Kerry, where he and O’Sullivan Mor feature in the following unattributed episode. It comes from Tom Barrington’s Discovering Kerry , though he does not give his source: “A curious attempt to relieve the castle led to the fitting out of two ships in Youghal, the Flower of Youghal and the Lion of Youghal. At Cork at end May they took aboard Sir Edward Denny and a foot company, had a little skirmish with O’Sullivan Beare’s men at Durrus and another with O Sullivan Mor’s troops somewhere in the Kenmare river. They landed at Ballinskelligs, where there was another small skirmish that led them to burn the village and the surrounding places. They then sailed to Dingle and being opposed there on 3 June went back to Ballinskelligs where four score men, raiding for cattle, were ambushed by O Sullivan Mor’s men and all but three were killed. The following day they raided Kilmackilloge for salt, remaining there until Monday the 6th, when eight men again landed, again ran into an ambush by O Sullivan Mor, and were all but two of them (who were captured) stoned to death. This seems to have been the end of this disastrous and incompetent expedition.”
But the tide turned in September 1642 when the Royalists under Lord Inchiquin (Murrough O’Brien) defeated the Irish at the Battle of Liscarroll. All was now changed, changed utterly. To the period immediately following belongs the struggle for the south of Kerry, where one of the English commanders became notorious, at least in folk history: Barrington, with his famous bloodhound.
The defeat of the Irish had much to do with the triumph of Oliver Cromwell over the Royalists in England. The victories of the New Model army under Cromwell at the battles of Marsden Moor and Naseby advanced certain English commanders who would become prominent in the conquest of Kerry, and who would found prominent New English settler families. Waller was one, Ingoldsby another. Both would become landowners in Co. Limerick, but both would impact Kerry politics when the dust of campaigning settled. Waller would intermarry with the biggest name of all, the famous map maker and land shark Sir William Petty. Bateman came and settled in Tralee, being given some of the Denny estate. Sir Edward Denny died in 1646, so did not participate in the New Model phase. His children were still young and they sat out the war in England. Charles Fleetwood, lord deputy of Ireland, was a distant cousin of the Dennys. Fleetwood married the widow of Ireton who died at the Cromwellian siege of Limerick (below). She was Cromwell’s daughter. Cromwell’s personal campaign ended at the siege of Clonmell in 1650 (below). For the conquest of the rest of Munster, including Kerry, Lord Broghill was in charge. Broghill, son of Richard Boyle, morphed into perhaps the most notorious of Cromwell’s generals. Broghill’s father was Sir Richard Boyle of the Munster Plantation, perhaps the greatest land shark of the first half of the seventeenth century as Petty would become in the second half. Lord Inchiquin, an O’Brien, crossed over from the Royalists to the side of the New Model and Cromwell, it is said because he failed to succeed his father-in-law St. Leger as President of Munster, a job given to Muskerry.
Inchiquin defeated the Irish under Taafe at the battle of Knocknanuss, near Mallow, November 13 1647. He had earlier perpetrated the notorious sack of the Rock of Cashel (he became Murrough the Burner), and then taken his army into Kerry. We know little of the Kerry campaign. At Knocknanuss the Irish lost 3000 men. Col. Richard Townshend (founder of the family at Castletownshend) commanded the main body of the English infantry. Of the aftermath of Knocknanuss Inchiquin wrote the following:
“The dispute lasted not above half a quarter of an hour but the execution ended not in that day; for though we were killing till night as fast as we could yet we found two or three hundred next day in the woods as we were viewing the bodies, but could not possibly get any exact accompt of the number slain; for after I had an accompt of more than 2000 that the pursuing parties slew in their severall walks, I was informed of many hundreds that were slain in divers other places, so as our men believe there were not less than 5000 slain; but I do not think it possible there should be above 3000, because the dispute lasted not at all; and that except the three regiments of Foot that came on with Sir Alexander Mack Donnell the rest made the best use they could of their heels to the woods and bogs towards Kanturk, Newmarket and Lyscarrol; yet we cut 200 of their horsemen.” (Inchiquin to the Speaker of the Commons, quoted in Townshend, An Officer of the Long Parliament, p. 60)
Inchiquin was not fully trusted by the English. He was an O’Brien and principally concerned with preserving the O’Brien estates. Then in 1648 he switched to the side of the Royalists. Ormond was back and a new Treaty was in place with the Irish. Now the Irish would be confronted by their cruellest opponent: Broghill. Broghill mopped up Munster after Cromwell returned to England as the siege of Clonmell continued. That same year, 1650, Broghill defeated the Irish at Macroom, and subsequently executed the Bishop of Ross, Boetius MacEgan, at nearby Carrigadrohid Castle. In July 1651 Broghill defeated Lord Muskerry at Knocknaclashy, or Knockbrack, near Banteer. Muskerry had set out from Kerry with a force of 3000 (including 2000 foot and 700 horse) to join up with the Irish at Limerick, which was being besieged by Ireton. “We had a fair execution for above three miles and indeed it was bloody …”, wrote Broghill (Crofton Croker, Researches in the South of Ireland, p. 301:). After the defeat Muskerry retreated to Ross Castle.
One of the last actions of the war was the siege of Ross Castle in 1652 by General Ludlow. Ross was defended by Lord Muskerry. Ludlow, who took over the Munster command after Ireton’s death of fever during the siege of Limerick, recorded the old prophesy, that Ross would not be taken until vessels were brought overland to the lake. This happened when Ludlow had them brought across from Castlemaine Harbour.
In 1653 the Prior of Holy Cross in Tralee was executed in Killarney. He was Thaddeus Moriarty, O. P. Piaras Feiriteir was executed there also, some believe on the same day. Feiriteir had kept up the struggle when the fate of the Irish was long sealed. John Percival of North Cork reported that “fourteen captains & other officers being lately taken in Kerry and hanged; others of them have offered themselves prisoners till they be sent to Spain & all very desirous to come in”. (Historic Manuscripts Commission, Egmont Mss., Vol.1, part 2 London 1905, John Percival to Lord Kerry, 25 June 1653.)
Fr Thaddeus Moriarty’s death was recorded by Dominic O’Daly, O. P., one of the outstanding Irishmen of the seventeenth century. O’Daly was born at Kilsarkan, near Castleisland, and his family were hereditary chroniclers to the earls of Desmond. He pursued his studies at Alcala de Henares and he ministered in Madrid where he gained a considerable reputation in the court of Philip IV. He moved to Lisbon in Portugal where he founded Dominican houses for priests and nuns. There also he became an international ambassador for the newly restored Braganza dynasty. The following is from O’Daly’s pen, taken from his book The Rise, Increase, and Exit of the Geraldines, Earls of Desmond, and Persecution After Their Fall (translated from the Latin by C. P. Meehan, C. C., fourth edition 1878).
Father Thaddeus Moriarty … also completed his studies in Lisbon. He was a distinguished theologian, and the last prior of the Dominican convent of Tralee. Profoundly learned in all the sciences, the splendour of his birth was surpassed by the brillian effulgence of his virtues. The learning and piety of this holy martyr soon came to be known by the relentless persecutors of his creed, and they left nothing undone in order to seize him. But never did the bride more cheerfully array herself for the marriage altar than did this holy man for the embrace of death. The starveling never desired food with more earnest yearnings than did this glorious champion the scaffold of martyrdom. When the death-warrant was read to him, he embraced the official and gave money to be distributed among those who were instrumental in destroying his body. From the place of execution he exhorted the spectators not to be disheartened, but to cling with fidelity to their hallowed creed, and to never forget the vicissitudes and transitoriness of this life, whose form and shadow pass rapidly away. And here let me certify that the body of the martyr, which the gloom and hardship of the prison had emaciated and discoloured, seemed as it were transifigured after death. Even from the eyes there appeared to radiate a beautiful brightness, and the executioner was heard to say that he had an angelic aspect. Throughout life he was a model of sanctity, mild, affable, and never known to have lost his temper, even in the most vexatious trials. When lashed with whips he appeared insensible to all the stripes, for he came like the sheep to the slaughter, opening not his mouth. Interrogated by his judge why he did not obey the laws of the kingdom, he mildly answered that he had to obey God, and would not be deterred from the exercise of his functions. In vain did the wife of the judge exhort her husband to have nothing to do with the blood of this just man. This venerable martyr was a disciple of his Lord, persevering in holiness even to the end of his mortal term. On the night of his sepulture they set a guard to watch the cemetery, fearing that the people would disinter his honoured remains.